Sunday, August 25, 2019

Papers, Please

There are many things I am thankful for right now:  beautiful weather.  The hills to be found right outside our front door that are still very much a novelty to me.  These children of ours who have amusing conversations such as this:

"I love dictionaries."

"I don't like dictionaries; dictionaries are mean.  They're always telling you how you're wrong."

I won't tell you which child uttered which sentence to protect the identities of the innocent, but if you know our offspring at all, you can probably make a not-so-wild guess.  The orator of that second statement was also offended when Derek and I laughed wildly at how injured they evidently feel by dictionaries in general.

You know what I don't care for?  Official documents.  I'm getting pretty dang sick of being told that a Kansas birth certificate/ Oklahoma marriage license/Iowa immunization record/WHATEVER isn't the right kind or isn't official enough (wish I was making that up) to get us little things like driver's licenses or school enrollment.  I've learned this much about myself, though:  There are many professions I've looked at and thought, "Sure, I could do that," but those that involve cutting through bureaucracy and red tape and paperwork for paperwork's sake?  No.  Not in this lifetime, nor in a million that follow.  I was ready to scream after being bounced from one DMV supervisor to another so they could inspect the aforementioned OK marriage license to see if it really really truly proved I was married.  I didn't, obviously, because hi, I wouldn't last five seconds in jail, but I did go so far as to arrange my facial expression into one of long-suffering forbearance laced with mild irritation.  TAKE THAT, STATE OF CONNECTICUT.

I don't really understand why most of these things are a problem in the first place.  All of these documents are from the same country, aren't they?  And aren't they just pieces of paper, anyway?  Maybe that's my problem- I don't put a lot of value in a piece of paper.  It reminds me second grade Adelaide who nearly fell to pieces trying to figure out why everyone put so much stock in American currency when it was all just special paper, and shouldn't money have actual worth?  I spent a good month warning people not to get sucked into any conversation with her that started with the question, "Do you know what pennies are actually made of?"  Emails with her teachers have always been fun.
Adelaide explaining the social construct that is modern currency.

The only time this ever touches me professionally is when someone wants a new library card and I have to ask them for ID.  Most of the time they have it ready and on their person, but when they don't, or it's not a library-sanctioned form of identification or personal mail, it's so hard for me not to shrug my shoulders and say, "Whatever, it's fine."  And yes, I know ID is required to protect the library from theft and blah blah blah.  Please don't bother engaging me in a conversation about this, because I know the arguments for and against- I just don't care.  It's the wonderful and terrible thing about those of us whose attitude toward official documentation is "I'm sure it's fine" and "Good faith efforts are good enough for me."  Please also note that this is yet another way that I am Derek's polar opposite.  Whee!

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Things, They Have Happened!

Many things have happened!  Our children are registered for school!  I have a job!  We took a trip to the DMV and it wasn't as heinous as I had feared!

First:  school.  It took an inordinate amount of paperwork to get these chitlins registered.  I learned the difference between a state-issued and hospital-issued birth certificate and that not every state gives you both, much to the confusion of this school district. When I got to talk to real live human beings, they were very gracious, but there were multiple times I found myself growling at this very Chromebook, "Look, I didn't intentionally birth three children in three different states, it just happened that way, okay?"  But finally, here we are, with a transportation schedule and everything.  Although that little thing provoked more questions than it answered; the middle school apparently releases before 3 p.m. while the boys' elementary school begins after 8 a.m., both of which are departures from what our kids have experienced in their previous schools.  I have quested through the bowels of the district's website and learned nothing about the schools' apparent staggered schedule, which leads me to believe I am supposed to gain this information in another way- swimming in the creek by town hall, maybe, or putting on a red coat and flapping around the yard.  Whoops, I left out a pertinent detail that will allow you to get that previous joke:  our high school's mascot?  The Redcoats.  No, we don't understand how this came to be, because one would think that an area of the country that was the site of so much of the Revolutionary War would swing the other way.  Why not the Minutemen?  Or the Patriots?  Or the Colonists? 

Second:  I have a job!  In a library!  The job is part-time, the library is huge.  I'm two whole days in, but all the other staff have been incredibly nice so far, so it's shaping up to be a good thing.  I'm hesitant to say more at this point, so I'll leave it at this for now:  working at a large library is different than working at a small library, but also the same.  I hope you feel enlightened.

Third:  the DMV.  The last time we lived here, our visits to the DMV were like every horrible movie scene set in a DMV you've ever witnessed.  The long waits, the public languishing in uncomfortable chairs as they mentally willed employees who had lost the will to live to call their number.

Our recent visit was very different.  Yes, it was busy, but there were still far fewer people than in my memory, due, I believe, to a magical invention called the internet.  Why go to the second circle of hell when you can now get half that stuff done online?  I also have to wonder if perhaps I'm just more patient, though; the last time we were there I was newly married and childless.  This time I was happy to wait as long as it took:  just me, Derek, a book, and no children needing anything from me.  It was like a vacation!  With all that and air conditioning, they're lucky I left when our task was complete.

All that being said, we still haven't gotten our CT driver's licenses, and I know that will be the lengthier visit.  I admit I'm a little concerned, because I understand you are no longer allowed to smile in the charming photo shown on licenses.  I feel nervous laughter bubbling up my throat just thinking about it.  There is no way I'll have anything other than a bizarre grin-suppressing, squinched look about my face simply because I know I'm not allowed to smile. 

P.S.  I went and looked on the school's website one more time because I was uncomfortable claiming I'd been in the bowels of the site when I'd likely only been in the stomach or duodenum at the lowest.  I found the staggered start and release times for the kids' schools.  Thanks, conscience!

Sunday, July 21, 2019


Our children have little to no memory of living in a house without central air conditioning.  Anymore, central air seems to be an asset Midwesterners take for granted, as sure a thing as tornadoes in spring and the fair in late summer.  Of course we all remember sweltering summers spent at the grandparents' house where you trailed ice cubes over your face as you sat inches in front of the fan, and who could forget that May where my third grade classroom's window unit quit working (PURE, SWEATY MISERY), but at least in my experience, central air is anything but uncommon in the Midwest.

Here, it is a different story.

Few houses appear to have central air, excepting new construction, of course, of which there isn't that much.  Window units abound, and we can usually pick out a few ductless units here and there on our walks.

Why all this riveting HVAC talk?  Well.  Yesterday at 3:30 p.m. the temp was in the low 90s, with a "real feel" of 105 degrees.  We're living in a house without central air, which has been, shall we say, a learning experience for our precious children.  Learning that no, Adelaide, we're not going to bake a pie when it's already 85° in the kitchen, and no, I'm not buying that chocolate-covered whatever; it'll melt in our cabinets and I've already over-stuffed our fridge trying to keep everything fresh.

We did go out and purchase window units for the kids' rooms, because if the kids aren't sleeping well, we aren't sleeping well.  Derek's rigged a series of fans to try and pull some of that cool air from one of their rooms into ours, and it's provided some relief.  I'm sleeping just fine, but I feel like I tolerate the heat better than Derek, possibly because at any given time I seem to operating around ten degrees cooler than he does.  Hover your hand over his arm at any given time and you'll feel that he simply radiates heat, whereas most of the year my hands can double as ice packs for your sore muscles.

Fortunately the temperature's supposed to take a dive Tuesday, so we've only got a couple more days of stillness.  That's how we've been coping:  by being very, very still.

Activities that don't require much movement are current favorites in this house, which means we've been playing a lot of games like Quirkle and Roll For It, with Contraptions being an ongoing favorite of the boys.  Atticus suggested Twister the other day and I'm still desperately sad I wasn't quick enough with my phone to capture the look of disgust on Caedmon's face at the idea of allowing our sticky selves to touch each other.  We've spent considerable amounts of time at the two local libraries, at the pool, and have been eating outside in the evenings.  Ice cream is also a balm.

While I don't remember Connecticut winters to be as brutal as Iowa's, I still know that there's going to be a time come February when I'll curse my summer self, wailing that I didn't appreciate the ability to go outside, that I wasted precious time moaning about the heat that my winter self longs for.  So yay for summer, sticky heat and all.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

In-Between Time

Throughout this process and even now, people we speak to ask how the kids are doing with the move. 

I appreciate this thoughtfulness.  Each of our kids have struggled with the whole process in different ways and to differing degrees.  Right now the boys seem to be doing okay, but that might be simply because it's summer break, where their mornings are spent trying to accomplish all their daily tasks that must be completed in order to earn time on the Nintendo Switch.  Oh, you're not the kind of parent who regularly employs bribery to assert some measure of behavioral control over your children, and your panties are becoming increasingly bunched over my last statement?  My guess is that your progeny are either babies, or imaginary.  Please move along.  There is nothing for you here, in the land where I'm afraid we do have to say things like, "You must complete X amount of creative time, and X amount of reading time, and X amount of outside time before we will allow you to rot your brains with X minutes of Zelda.  Why, yes, we are the cruelest possible parents in existence; thank you so much for noticing!"

This isn't even getting into chores.  In the space of time our 10 year old spends poring over the day's chore list to make sure it is fair and just in every possible way, with no unequal distribution of tasks, he could have finished half of those chores.  I tolerate the cries of "Why do I have 2 hard chores and one medium chore when she has 3 easy chores?" because this is also the kid who prefers to see the chore list first thing in the morning so he can do his right away; no unfinished work is allowed to dangle over his head all day.  What makes a chore "medium" or "easy" in his estimation?  No one knows.
I get an almost indecent amount of joy out of taking pictures of our kids doing chores.  Hey, you have your weird hobbies, I have mine.

With all that, I don't know that our boys have the additional emotional bandwidth for existential angst over the move.  It also helps that we've been to the pool almost every day for the past week and there we met a nice family with two boys of matching ages to our own.  Sometimes God answers prayers through affordable family pool passes.  Not what I would have expected, but then, that's God for you.

Adelaide is paradoxically eager for school to start, in order to "get it over with."  The two of us ventured out last week to The Book Barn, which consists of three locations of a book store within a mile or two of each other, each more charming than the last (providing you start with the least charming location, of course).  We've both had a hard time putting into words what we loved so much about this used book store; Adelaide loved the goats, the whimsy, and the books, while I loved the gardens, the whimsy, and the books.  And the clever shelf markers.  And the rambling-ness of the place.  And all the rest.
Please enjoy this example of their cleverness taken through my dirty windshield.

It definitely feels as if Real Life has been put on hold.  Currently I am banned from the kitchen as the boys prepare a "surprise" for Derek.  I have been told it's not something to eat, despite their needing a pan and food coloring, and just now I overheard Caedmon say to his brother, "If you use cooking ingredients, even if you're not, like, cooking, it often turns out well."  Forgive me for my apparent deep-seated cynicism as I say there is no way this is turning out well.

I'm thankful for this slow time before school starts and I find another job.  (Will I ever find another job?  Who knows?  But rest assured I am handling the unsettled quality that currently characterizes this aspect of my life super duper well.)  It's allowing the kids and me a gradual easing-in to this new life of ours, one where there's time to drag them on hikes, and on walks around town, and where we get to try pizza place after pizza place until we find Our Favorite.  I don't think anyone can complain too much about their life if they're getting pizza once a week, and I am not exempt from that. 

Friday, July 5, 2019

What I've Learned, with Gifs

When asked how things were going as we prepped for our move, I found I was finishing many anecdotes by saying, "I'm learning a lot."  Sometimes this was my nice way of saying, "Big changes are hard and this really really really sucks."  But sometimes I meant it a little more literally; an author I follow posted this at one point during the process, and it felt like God had shoved important words in front of my face, trying to get me to pay attention:

I can be more than a little myopic and have asked God repeatedly not to be subtle in His messages to me.  This can be a dangerous request.

Nonetheless, "Don't waste the pain" became my go-to phrase when things were painful whilst saying farewell to Iowa.  The pain was going to be there no matter what I did, so I figured I may as well learn from it, try to glean whatever it is God was trying to teach me.

For starters, I've learned that I like my comfort.  I don't mean a plush easy chair, feet kicked up, eating kettle corn- although, hmm, that too- I mean that while I say I enjoy new experiences, I apparently only enjoy those when I get to take a few steps, brush up against some kind of pleasant novelty or other, then retreat back to my comfort zone, where I can mentally process that experience at my leisure.  Being plucked out of my comfort zone and plopped miles and miles away?  Not so much.

I've learned I get overwhelmed when I have 47 tasks in front of me, but can manage so much when I chunk a list up into sections.  I look at all I accomplished in the months before we moved and I am astounded.  From getting a house ready to sell, to running herd on three kids on my own for two months- in APRIL AND MAY, no less, when each day has a concert or a field day or a history project due- to seeing as many beloved Iowans as possible in that span of time as possible?  I may not have done it all, but I did a lot.

I learned that asking others for help doesn't kill you dead.  I still don't like it, and only feel comfortable asking for that help from a handful of people and within a very narrow set of parameters.  Your mower has died but you still have two weeks' worth of mowing to do before you move?  You can ask a friend if you can borrow their mower, but YOU MUST do the actual mowing yourself and you WILL NOT ask that same friend two weeks in a row; gotta switch to someone else.  One of your kids has truly gone off the rails over this move and you're so worried you're on the verge of vomiting for 10 straight days?  You can contact people very strategically asking for prayer, intel, or a shoulder to cry on/ lose your ever-loving mind to.  None of this will kill you, which is hard to believe when it feels like there's an elephant sitting on your chest as you stare at your phone, willing yourself to ask someone for help.  Asking people for help is second only to asking people if they'll be your reference for a job application.  That is when I fervently start praying that Jesus would come back STAT. 

Since arriving back in CT, I've learned that I'm different at 36 than I was at 21 when I first moved here.  It's like I'm kinder, but also less willing to let anyone walk all over me.  More compassionate, but somehow also less tolerant of what I would consider unacceptable behavior.  I guess I'm just... older.  I'm also trying to be retrospectively gracious toward my past self who lived here before:  she was young, and and both worked and lived in areas that showed some of the worst sides of this area (retail and a rather ugly town, respectively).  She also hadn't yet realized that being outgoing as a personality trait doesn't have to be inborn- it can be learned.  This realization served her well in Iowa; we'll see how things go here this time around.

I'm sure I learned loads of other things, but this has gone on for a while.  Too much introspection invariably begins to feel like wallowing to me, and I don't wallow well.  I am spectacular at avoidance, however, which might be why I have so many hobbies to reach for when the thinkin' gets too deep.  Anyone up for a run?  How about a book?  Hiking?  Baking?  Walking?  Board game?  Gardening?  Writing?  Puzzles?  If it's an old-person activity, I probably like it.
I also enjoy sudoku.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

IA to IL to IN to OH to PA to NJ to CT

When we were planning how to transport our family from Iowa to Connecticut, we discussed a number of options.  Thankfully our stuff was chug-a-lugging its way eastward on a moving truck, so the only things we had to get from point A to point B were the five of us and the various and sundry items I had overpacked for the trip.

When deciding what I wanted to travel in the van with us, I evidently thought that bringing every cleaning product we owned would be crucial, along with most of the blankets we own, this despite the fact that it's a warm time of year and we only had two nights to camp in our old house without our belongings.  I did restrain myself from digging up most of my flowers, but only because I didn't believe they'd survive the trip.  In the end the only plant that came with was six or so iris rhizomes I got from my grandparents' Kansas farm.  The potted rain lily that came from my great-aunt and great-uncle in Texas-by way of my grandparents, again- also happily survived the move.

So Friday morning our van-full of cleaning items, blankets, plants, and humans set out toward Connecticut.  We made good time, arriving at Lagomarcino's Confectionery right at lunchtime.

That place was so dang charming.  Quaint little wooden booths, plus a counter by the soda fountain, plus a long case filled with handmade chocolates- it was wonderful.  The food was pretty simple, with the shakes definitely stealing the show.

After lunch we stretched our legs, walking around quiet downtown Moline, IL, and then stretched our legs some more as Derek went into a branch of our bank and tried to put out fires that were threatening to ignite surrounding our two house closings.  Because we closed on our Iowa house Thursday night and then planned on closing on our CT house the following Monday morning, everything had to line up and occur on a pretty tight timeline.  There are lots of moving pieces when it comes to real estate and banks, however, and not everyone was playing nice, so Derek was monitoring it all and shifting and switching and overall being his uber-responsible self.  For my part, I made the kids walk laps around the bank.  This was apparently evidence of my innate cruelty; never mind that they had already been sitting and would continue to sit on their tuchuses for hours.  

What is the plural for tuchus, anyway? 

Derek's parents completed their application for sainthood by presenting to Adelaide the complete series of Mork and Mindy on DVD shortly before we left Iowa.  This being her current favorite show, she ended up watching hours of it over the miles and states of this trip.  She even got the boys hooked.  Posthumous credit goes to Robin Williams for generating giggles from the backseat of our van when we expected to hear pitiful weeping.  

Day two's stop was Marblehead Lighthouse on the shore of Lake Erie.  The boys and I loved how incredibly windy it was there that day, but it freaked Adelaide out.  Well, that and all the water.  Not caring for wind and water together is problematic when you're on one of the Great Lakes.  Still, she climbed the winding wrought iron stairs inside the lighthouse with no problem, while I was finding myself shorter and shorter of breath due to some height-induced panic.  Yet again I forgot how much I don't care for heights until we were well off the ground.  

It all seems like a good idea when my feet are planted on the firmament, but then we begin climbing and I remember just how little I trust my fellow man and the things he has built.  Never mind that the lighthouse has stood without incident (well, without a lot of incidents) for close to 200 years; my weight will be the straw the breaks the camel's back- or the flesh that crumbles the limestone, I guess.  Once at the top, my back was firmly glued to the outside wall of the structure while small children capered about the balcony.  I did allow myself small shuffles from side to side, but did not get a picture of this because I was trying not to die.  
We also enjoyed hopping around on the boulders that line the shore, because, well, boulder hopping is fun. 

Our final day on the road we elected not to stop at any of the Pennsylvania rocks the kids were decidedly not excited about seeing- the timing just wasn't right- and instead stopped at High Point State Park in New Jersey.  I believe I forgot to mention New Jersey as one of the states we were traversing.  We were at the state park for all of 30 minutes; a few hikers emerged from the forest just as we were preparing to set out and told us that any grass higher than ankle-height would end in legs covered in ticks.  This was problematic as we were all clueless Iowans wearing shorts.  We followed a well-cleared trail for all of a quarter mile before it grew more overgrown and we decided that it was not a good day to become five walking, talking hosts for opportunistic families of ticks.  So we turned around.  Then I read two pamphlets aloud I'd picked up at the ranger station; I was determined we'd all get something out of this stop, and if wasn't going to be exercise, it would have to be more facts about black bears than we'll likely ever need. 

Other fun facts about the trip:  

Adelaide got uneasy when we entered Jersey and the roads turned close, hilly, and windy.  We told her this boded ill for one year from now when she'll be learning how to drive on Connecticut roads. 

We were given a number of thoughtful gifts for the road trip, but the kids' favorite was from one of my yoga ladies, who gave us a generously-sized bag of snack food:  single-serving Cheez-Its, pretzels, cans of Pringles, and homemade monster cookies and Kringla.  From now on this will be our standard gift to families embarking on cross-country moves.

A couple times Atticus said, "I keep almost asking when we're going to turn around and go home- but then I remember we're not."

Even with all the stops, the kids' favorite part may have been the hotel pools.

Atticus is still talking about "the mosquitoes with tails."  They were some kind of bug we kept seeing on the shore of Lake Erie.  I repeatedly told the kids they were not mosquitoes.  They will not be convinced.

Adelaide's favorite was the chocolate malt at Lagomarcino's.  And Mork and Mindy.

And yes, I can confirm that Caedmon's favorite part of the trip was "probably the hotel pools."  Does this mean you should save your pennies, not take that trip, and instead head to the nearest hotel that will let you swim and get family ear infections for an afternoon fee?  Not necessarily.  But this definitely doesn't make me want to spend all our dollars on certain children's admittance to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Unexpected Perks

When trying to sell Adelaide on the idea of moving across the country, we brought up a number of points:

We'll be close to New York!

Close to the ocean!

They have a lot more ice cream shops!

There's a massive used bookstore in CT with a number of live-in cats!

Free tickets to Disney World, which, okay, maybe doesn't excite you, but it greatly increases your chances of visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

Some of these she seemed to take in and ponder, and some she lobbed right back at us.  One pro I never even considered, however, was the cemeteries.
That's right:  Connecticut has loads more dead people than Iowa!  Yaaa...ay?

Daughter and I both appreciate a good graveyard.  It doesn't take much to make it "good" in our estimation, either; really just a few headstones that are legible.  There's something about getting only a few tantalizing details to a greater story that sets your feet to walking to read the next one, and the next one, and the next, forever and ever until both Atticus and Caedmon are slumped on the ground moaning and wondering aloud, "Whhhyyyy do you like dead things so much?" 

What's not to like?  I mean, just look at the winged cherub (or is it a death's head?) on this one!

AND look at the dates on this one!  We'd explored a number of Iowa cemeteries, and I apparently had that kind of timeline in my head; when we walked to our first cemetery here in town I thought maybe we'd get lucky and see a few Civil War-ear headstones.  Imagine my delight at so many pre-Revolutionary War inscriptions!  I am admittedly a down-to-the-bone Midwesterner who is impressed with this kind of antiquity.  Don't get me wrong; I still appreciate a good Iowa pioneer cemetery, and you'll find an entirely different kind of history in the cemeteries of the Midwest that's just as fascinating. 

But look at these names!
You just don't see a lot of "Hephzibah, Relict of Hosea Goodrich"-type markings in the middle of our massive country.  And yes, I have a lot more pictures like these clogging up the camera roll of my phone. 

And these were just the local cemeteries- we haven't even begun to search out some of the older or well-known within CT, of which there are so many!  Please take my word for this, unless you knowingly want to trip down that internet hole, in which case might I suggest you start here or here or maybe here.

I do have more than just pictures of tombstones on my phone, I'll have you know.  I can't get too up in arms, though, because it's mostly just screenshots of books I want to read,

ideas relating to house projects,


and pictures of our kids working.  Because nothing gives me greater joy.

I didn't choose the boring life, the boring life chose- oh, wait, yes I did!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Good Plant, Evil Plant

I'd like to begin by giving thanks for the God-given, science-driven, ANTIBIOTIC.  I'd also like to thank Him for stretching out His mighty right hand and blessing us with steroids in their many forms.  Fear not, friends, this is not about to become a fire and brimstone post fueled by 'roid rage; I'm talking about the steroids that help those of us with immune systems that insist on acting like a stereotypical teenager (Daughter excluded, of course):  either too lazy to do much of anything or losing it in a fit of pique when something barely brushes its arm.

What I mean is this:  I went to the doctor.  I think we're going to be getting along just fine, given that she ordered up a couple kinds of steroids and an antibiotic because infection had set in a patch or two.  She also more or less said, "HEY, DUMMY- you are severely allergic to these plants.  Do not go near them.  Do not try to burn them off lest you inhale the smoke and do some real damage.  Get someone else to clear your yard of it."  The line, "I already know all that, Mom," did run through my head, but then reality snapped back into focus:  I was, in point of fact, sitting in her office covered in what my sister is calling "boils" because I was dumb enough to work up a good poison oak lather, this despite spending multiple childhood summers sidelined due to poison ivy.

So.  Yes.  My boils are improving.  I am still waking up throughout the night having already scratched myself half to death, but my days have significantly improved, where I'm able to move through the hours in relatively good humor, without falling asleep in public spaces because of Benadryl fog.

When not obsessing over "the devil's touch" (online poison oak sufferers are a hilarious but scary- and scaly- bunch), I've been working on making our house habitable!  For many this might mean unpacking or something equally practical, but unfortunately for my family, for me this means staining wood and planting flowers.

What I eventually want is a profusion of coneflowers all along the front of our white picket fence.  Coneflowers because:  they spread, they're pollinators, they come in a bunch of colors now, and they'll give me that cottage garden look I think a picket fence calls for.  For now, however, we'll just have to use our imaginations that the 10 clumps I've planted so far will be fruitful and multiply.  For you coneflower people, I've got Cheyenne Spirit Mix, PowWow Wild Berry, Virgin, and the original purple.  For you non-flower types, I've got, well, the usual purple, plus red, orange, yellow, pink, and white.  We'll see how many of them make it; I've had mixed luck getting anything but traditional purple to come back after a couple years.  I'll get a whole mess of bulbs in there this fall for spring color, and then I'll need to think of something for fall color. 
Cheyenne Spirit Mix

The wood staining has been done in our scary basement WHERE I BELONG (sorry, like I said, the poison oak is still able to seize control from time to time).  The layout of our kitchen is more than a little confounding, but my sister suggested tearing down the upper cabinets in the middle of the room so I asked Derek to do whatever she said (well, I omitted tearing out the back wall and putting in a sliding glass door because Budgets), and as soon as he got them down the room felt markedly improved.  The wood- ha, you'd forgotten the point of this story, hadn't you?  Me, too!- is for some open shelving we're putting up, because although the square footage of this house is similar to that of our previous, it's laid out quite differently with a notable lack of storage space, excepting the basement.  For this reason we've found ourselves at IKEA (because Budgets) three times in the last week looking at shelves!  And wardrobes!  And sideboards!  And other ways to hide our crap!

Tomorrow I can almost promise not to mention poison oak again, but there will be plenty of cemeteries!  Old cemeteries!

Sunday, June 23, 2019


This poison oak reaction of mine has accelerated to the point that I'm being forced into a seated position for an extended period of time.  This means I have time for blogging!  Oh, but I'm also all hopped up on Benadryl, so prepare yourself for a format that looks more like a maze than a story arc.

We're coming up on two whole weeks lived in Connecticut, which also means our family has been reunited for just over two weeks.  One of the things that we tried to keep a bit under the radar was the fact that Derek arrived here in CT in early April, while the kids and I remained behind in Iowa.  I'm trying to find the right word that would illustrate what it was like to be apart for so long; "excruciating" feels like overkill, but "hard" is too milquetoast.  Whatever word lives halfway between those two extremes is the right one, so your homework for today is to fill in the blank:  "It was                          for the Crislers to be separated by 1,000 miles for two months."  

Part of what made that time apart so difficult was the enormous amount of stress we were under.  There were huge amounts of things to be done, and while I tackled my share of those tasks in Iowa and he his in CT, after 15 years of marriage we're not really divide and conquer-type people anymore, but Unite and Conquer.  That is hard to do when there are 1200 miles between you.  The kids suffered, Derek suffered, I suffered.  Military families:  how do you do it?  We went two months and it felt like it was close to killing us off; I cannot fathom months on end.

June 6th became a much-anticipated date, as Derek flew into Des Moines that evening.  It was such a relief for us all to be back together, even though it was our last night in Iowa.  Our belongings had been packed and loaded by a moving company on the 5th and 6th, so the five of us spent a final night sleeping on the floor of our beloved Iowa house.  Emotionally speaking, each of our kids have gone through rough patches when it comes to this move, and that night it was Caedmon's turn.  He was bereft at the idea of leaving the only house he has ever known.

Thankfully none of our kids have been emotionally drowning at the same time; when one's face starts to slip beneath the surface, the other two are treading water.  So you go and you haul that kid up, assessing and reassuring and loving and praying over them.  That kid stabilizes, so you turn around and another kid starts to go under.  This is parenting, and it is exhausting, but it's also much easier to keep them all afloat when there are two of you life guarding.  

Amongst all that were the good-byes we had to say to so many friends.  At some point I will write about how taken care of I felt as we prepared to leave, but that's just not something I feel up to right now.  Blame the poison oak, not my penchant to avoid any and all negative feelings.  That's right... poison oak.  No feeling of any feelings allowed.  Quick, look at this weird but captivating gif instead!

We signed the last of our paperwork for the sale of our house Thursday night, got up bright and early Friday morning and chatted with the new owners who, you might remember, were also our neighbors.  We walked through the house, pointing a few things out to them we thought might be helpful.  We had a few stops to make around town, returning camping pads to friends (so we didn't have to sleep on the bare floors), honoring Adelaide's request for that last trip to Casey's, etc. 

And then we were on our way!  We had three days worth of road tripping ahead of us since we'd elected to turn the voyage east into a mini-vacation.  I'll expound upon that soon, but for now I'll just say:  I was so thankful for those three days.  They were a real gift, an in-between time where reality was suspended.  I wasn't killing myself trying to get everything done to wrap things up in Iowa, but we hadn't yet closed on our house in Connecticut.  All we had to do was drive, visit lighthouses, watch Mork and Mindy, and be together.  Well, plus a few other things.  But still together.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

All I Need Is a Bridge To Live Under

It's been quite a week.  We took the kids on their virgin trip to IKEA, which Adelaide loved and the boys tolerated.  Derek and I basically looked at ten different ways to put shelves in ten different places; this new house has very little in the way of storage space, so as we continue to try and unpack it consists of us unwrapping an item, looking around for a place to store it, finding nothing, and putting it on whatever horizontal surface is within arm's reach.  Repeat x1000.

We got a new couch, which is exciting, because the one that has faithfully served us for the last 11 years only fits three people, and last I counted there are five of us.  It's nice and plump, although I haven't really allowed myself to recline on it yet; I currently look like a cross between a burn victim and a leper due to the increasingly widespread poison oak rash covering my body, and I don't want to get blister ooze on the new cushions.  Each day also brings with it a heightened sense of self consciousness in terms of bringing this open flesh wound out into public, although the real problem there is that I don't like for any fabric to be touching the rash, which hurts on contact but really starts barking when I later try to peel the fabric off that has inevitably fused to my weeping skin.  Clearly the answer is to go around topless, but something tells me this would attract the wrong kind of friends.

I started taking Benadryl a couple days ago to try and combat the incessant itching and pain, but did so with reluctance:  I'm pretty sensitive to the stuff.  I know this due to past experience, which consisted of me taking some Benadryl at Derek's parents' house years ago and then waking up an hour later, face-down in the middle of the living room.  I don't know why I didn't choose one of the beds, couches, or really any kind of furniture and instead chose to stretch out where there was a regular pattern of foot traffic.

But itchy and oozy am I, so Benadryl it is.  I've been keeping the operation of heavy machinery to a minimum, but yesterday I felt like it was safe to walk a block up the hill to the small and sweet Berlin Free Library (not to be confused with the town's public library).  I remember sitting down in a chair to read while the kids made their book selections, and then I remember waking up to my phone buzzing in my lap.  I'm pretty sure I only fell asleep for a few minutes.  I really really hope no one stumbled upon me in my (legal) drug-induced coma.

I am going to the doctor Monday morning.  I am hoping for more powerful, but still legal drugs.  That or they can just skin me and I'll start anew.  Whatever it takes.

Monday, June 17, 2019

We Have Arrived

We're here!  We made it!

One week ago yesterday we arrived in CT, and one week ago today we closed on our house in the morning and spent the rest of the day moving into it.

There's so much to say, so much to document, that I don't even really know where to start.  I'm in another library, except it's 1200 miles from the one I was writing in last week.  It's a nice library, but I find I'm struggling to accept it as it is and not zero in on all the things I'd change if I could get my hands on it.  (What would I change, you ask?  More new middle readers.  Less staff just milling around, looking bored.  Library stuff.)  I feel gross as I sit here, not because I'm actually dirty- we have a functioning shower now, hurray!- but because my skin is covered in light pink patches of dried calamine lotion.  It turns out we have quite the crop of poison oak in our new yard, and although I have spent a large portion of the last week helping to clear it out, I don't really remember rolling around in it like a pig in mud.  Or a dog in mud.

Given that I did not make any crowns of poison oak to rest charmingly upon my brow, I'm wondering just how I ended up with a rash behind my ears, of all places.  And my back.  And my shoulders.  The rash on my hands and forearms, I understand.

Oh, wait, I know!  See, if you're allergic to urushiol oil, as I am, then you know that after exposure to poison ivy, poison oak, etc, you have to wash aaaallll the fabrics you even thought about touching.  Clothing, sheets, towels, etc, or you'll keep re-exposing yourself.  But our washer is still broken.  Something in my possession has that oil on it, so it just keeps spreading.  Awesome.

The possibly-good news is that the repairman is scheduled to pay us a visit tomorrow; the washer needed a new pump.  But we really really need that pump to arrive today, or he'd just be coming over to have tea and cookies.  Except that I'm not a big tea drinker, so I guess we'd just be having cookies.  Cookies and calamine lotion.  Sounds like the name of a scented candle.

Many other things have happened, too, both good and bad.  Derek and his dad hooked up the dryer, which included cutting through the side of the house to vent it, as we chose a new location for the washer and dryer.  Well, I'll put "new" in quotation marks, because it was likely the original location, before the Flippers From Hell got their hands on this house and did nearly everything wrong, including moving the washer and dryer to the second floor and kitting out a laundry room around it the size of a bedroom.  We wanted that fourth bedroom, so back down the washer and dryer needed to go.  I'll finish this riveting paragraph by saying that they had to cut 8.5" through that exterior wall for the dryer vent, and 7.5 of those inches were solid wood.  So... maybe the house is well-insulated?

When we haven't been working on the house (which is almost never), we've been exploring this new-to-us area.  There are plenty of things here to recommend our location, but one of my favorites is the abundance of trails- at least compared to where we were- in this section of New England.  I picked one of the closest ones and packed the kids up two days ago while Derek was at work in the evening.  Now, hiking isn't one of their favorite things, but I can usually get them to go along at least half-cheerfully for a solid mile or two, so when we studied the map at the trail head I chose the blue trail.  1.5 miles is very doable for our kids!  No problem!  Piece of cake!

Except, whoopsy daisy, we instead set out on the blue/red trail, and while my suspicions were mounting about my mistake almost from the beginning, I didn't say anything until we were over 1 1/2 miles in.  Then I looked it up on my AllTrails app, and sure enough, we were on the 5.5 mile loop.  To their credit, the kids took the news with relative aplomb (or maybe it was just exhaustion?), and we turned around to hike back.  It was very hilly, especially for newly-arrived flatlanders, and extremely rocky.  

Of course, we knew that was coming, given that one of the trail runners we saw at the trail head held up a shredded shoe and told her companion, "This is what Ragged Mountain does to shoes."  But it was beautiful, and I was so pleased with how the kids handled the challenge.  

Tomorrow (or whenever I get to it):  Reunions!  Flowers!  A weeping house!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

And Tomorrow They Load the Truck

I am sitting at my local library, writing what I assume will be my last post from Iowa.  There are strangers in our house, packing up our things, which makes me simultaneously say, "Waaaaaah!" and "Oh, thank God."  I mean, I'm sad that we're moving, but I'm also thankful it's not me in there packing it all up.  I about killed myself trying to get it all ready last night, loading up cleaning supplies, making sure everything was unplugged, etc.  Do you know how many aerosol cans we have?  Multitudes.  So so many.  Why do we need four giant cans of wasp killer?  Have we been living in a bad '60s horror film and I never realized it?  Here I was thinking I was living a normal life of an Iowan when apparently I was a bumbling extra, oblivious to the fact that there's a giant wasp on the loose in the town of Brave New World.

My head's in kind of a weird space today.  You understand.

Speaking of Brave New World, the moniker I long ago gave the little town we've been living in, I think it's now safe to tell you that its actual name is Huxley.  Just me having my own, private, long-running, literary joke there. 

Other items I evidently hoard?  Soy sauce.  Field guides.  Aldi-brand Rotel.  Because I guess you never know when you're going to need to identify a species of North American tree while eating Mexican and Asian food both?  I'm really not ashamed of what these choices say about my priorities. 

I've also been spending my time trying to see as many Iowa loved ones as possible in between working and grabbing our children by their cheeks, peering into their faces while asking, "You okay in there?  Any irreversible trauma going on?"  They love this about as much as you think they would.  Also I'm running around like a crazy person because moving involves paperwork.  Lots and lots of paperwork.  Post office.  Doctor's office.  Schools.  Etc.

Then, two days ago, as I manically attempted to wash every scrap of fabric in our house (everything I do now is manic, except when I slip into deep lethargy and depression- is there such as thing as situational bipolar disorder?) so it would be clean for the move, where it can get dirty again in the moving truck, our washer abruptly went on strike.  It stopped about a quarter of the way into a cycle, so I manually drained it, ran a spin cycle, did all the things the manual told me to do when the washer's cry for help is "5E," the error code that appeared on the display.  I thought I had it fixed, evidenced by my triumphant text to Derek.  Then the same thing happened, so I drained it again- which, if you're curious, consists of me gracefully sprawling on our laundry room floor surrounded by all the shallow vessels I could find; the drain tube is only a couple inches off the floor, and each time I drained around three gallons of water- and ran the spin cycle again, and then pronounced it... maybe not dead, but grievously injured.

We knew it would be nigh on impossible to get a technician out to fix the washer within the 36 hours we had until the movers arrived, but I still tried.  No luck.  But then Tami made herself my new best friend by announcing that YES, they could get a technician out to Connecticut to look at it after the move!  God bless nation-wide warranty companies!  God bless warranties themselves!  God bless Tami, the kind lady on Assurant's online chat for whom I left a stellar review in the post-conversation survey!

Gratitudinals- that's right, I remembered that in everything I'm supposed to give thanks and all that junk.  Here's what I'm thankful for today:

1.  Marco Polo, the video chat app my friend Mindy introduced me to several weeks ago.  It allows you to record a video that can only be seen by whomever you decide to put into a group- I have a group that consists of Mindy, Anne, and me, one with just Derek and me, and so on.  It's eased the thought of moving far away from my people, because now I'll be able to go back and watch their videos whenever I want, still seeing their faces and hearing their voices.  It's a nice alternative to Facetime because you can record your videos and watch your friends' responses at your leisure.

2.  The fact that I have several thank yous to write once this post is done, because it's evidence of people helping us and doing any number of things to ease our transition and show their affection for us.
A good start.

3.  Derek's mom Becky, who is even now at the movie theater with our kids.  It's helped make a difficult day easier.

4.  Our kids' teachers, who made time in the death march that is the month of May to lavish extra affection onto our children.  Atticus's teacher made up a story to get him out of the classroom so that his classmates could each write what they like about him or what they'll remember about him on pieces of paper.  One of Adelaide's teachers sent her a thoughtful email after the last day of school encouraging her and giving Daughter her personal address so they can be pen pals.  Caedmon's teacher pulled him aside and gave him an extra hug ("she squeezed me so tight, Mom") and words that express all the goodness she sees in him. 
And now I'm crying in the library.

5.  Chili lime cashews from Aldi, especially on top of a salad.  So crunchy and spicy and flavorful.  My mouth is watering just thinking about them.  Leakage in my eyes and my mouth.  What a day.

Monday, May 27, 2019

The Road Trip of Sadness!

When talking about how to get our family out to Connecticut in (eep!) 1 1/2 weeks, multiple options were discussed. We could ship the van and fly out.  We could drive the van and not fly.  We could do other things that I cannot now recall because all these conversations happened weeks ago and it's all I can do to remember what I said yesterday. 

In the end, we decided to drive the van out, all five of us, 1200 miles. 

At first we thought we'd try to drive 9 hours a day for two consecutive days because it's actually only 18 hours from here to there, not 24 or however long it was from where I lived in Kansas when I had to drive out years ago.  Benefits to this included the fact that Derek would have to take fewer days off work, we'd be able to dive into the work waiting for us at the house in CT more quickly, and, well, only two days on the road.

However, I told Derek that although I knew this was going to be a tough journey and that most if not all of it would be tinged with melancholy, I did not want this to be our family's Trail of Tears, just a van full of sadness hurtling down I-80 over two days.  I wanted to somehow redeem this journey, find a way to make positive memories over those miles. 

We decided to add a day to the trip, building in some stops and taking our daily travel time to just six hours.  We'll be passing through Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut.  Whew!  We will not be stopping in each state- sorry, New York- and the stops we do have planned depend at least a bit on nice weather. 

Here's the plan:

Day One
The closing on our house in Iowa is on Day One, hopefully first thing in the morning so we can get on the road immediately following and at a decent time.  Adelaide has requested to stop at Casey's one last time before we leave the state.  Casey's is not a hometown store or local watering hole; it's a gas station chain, which makes all of this sound way less poignant.  Casey's headquarters are a scant 15 miles down the highway, however, and their locations are so abundant around here that we have two in our town of 3,500 people.  They also make surprisingly good pizza, and we nearly always stop for road trip snacks before heading off on any journey longer than a few hours.  This trip will apparently be no different.

Our first stop beyond the boundaries of beautiful Iowa is in Illinois, at Lagomarcino's Confectionary.  We'll be eating at their old fashioned soda fountain, although how I'm supposed to choose between a malt and homemade chocolates, I don't know.  Question:  what's an egg creme and do you think I should try one of theirs? 

Night One
Stay at a hotel in Indiana.  It was vitally important to Atticus that each hotel had a pool.  It was vitally important to Derek that each hotel included breakfast.  Indiana is supposed to deliver on both.  I'm hoping it's not too much to ask to also find no bed bugs.  Strike that:  no insects of any kind, please.  I'm picky that way. 

Day Two
Our plan is to stop at Marblehead Lighthouse in Ohio, where hopefully we'll be able to frolic and scamper to our hearts' content at the state park by the lighthouse, and maybe tour the lighthouse itself.  This will be our family's first exposure to one of The Great Lakes!  At least... I think it will be?  Definitely our first time at Lake Erie, anyway. 

If it's raining Marblehead wouldn't be an ideal stop, so our backup plan is Seneca Caverns, self-described as "the caviest cave in America," which is probably what landed it on a website I love, Roadside America, which highlights the kookiest roadside attractions by state.  Derek and I toured Fantastic Caverns in Missouri in college, and I remember it as being, well, fantastic, but also pricey.  Seneca Caverns looks similarly expensive, so it's definitely our second choice, but it would allow us to stretch our legs and move our bodies around a hopefully pretty cool place (ha, "cool" because it looks neat but also because it's a constant 54 degrees in there please don't leave I can't help the way I am).

Night Two
Stay at a hotel in Pennsylvania.  Pool.  Breakfast.  No bed bugs.

Day Three
Our PA plan is to look at rocks!  This has been a hard sell to the kids as I've presented it to them in just such a fashion:  "Pennsylvania = rocks!  Yessss!"  The Frontier Rock Formations really do look beautiful, though, and since one of my personal priorities for these stops is being able to move and walk around after hours in the car, this could be a good one, but again, we need decent weather.  We do not currently have a foul weather plan for PA, and so far all the attractions I've found on Roadside America, although neat sounding ("Green Mannequin Aliens and UFO," "Skeleton of Old Coaly the Mule"), all appear to be outdoors.  So... pray for clear skies, I guess?  Also on the docket for PA:  wave to Carolyn!  Oh, wait, and I think in Illinois I wave to Ernie!

Night Three
Hotel in CT not far from our new house.  Closing is first thing the next morning, after which the moving company will hopefully be there and ready to unload all our junk/treasured possessions into the house.  Goals for the hotel are same as in previous nights/states:  pool, breakfast, no bed bugs.

What else?  We've been on enough long trips with our kids to know that something will go wrong.  Flat tires, locking my keys in the car (while in Kansas City, pregnant with Caedmon, two small children in tow- that was an interesting day), sick kids, sick adults, screaming kids, sleepy drivers, road construction, scary weather, etc, etc, etc.  Something will go wrong on this trip.  It is inevitable.  I will attempt to be like bamboo, bending but not breaking.  This is difficult when you are from Kansas where the state tree is the Cottonwood; flexibility is not one of its characteristics.

I'm also bracing myself for the sadness.  We are trying to make memories on this trip, but one of those might be crying into our old-fashioned sodas in Illinois.  We may just end up infecting the eastern half of the United States with our feelings along this journey.  Sorry, U.S.A.
On a more lighthearted note, Derek is going to be vlogging throughout our trip!  He's hemmed and hawed and talked about vlogging and considered and reconsidered- after all, he knows video, he knows editing, he knows all the things and jargon that I don't even have the language for, and I like the idea of having these memories to keep in a more lasting format.  I did warn him that while I am looking forward to this trip because of the stops we have planned, I do think there will be a considerable amount of tears and crankiness due to its inherent purpose:  our exodus from our beloved Iowa.  He is aware of this.  He also said "That's what editing is for."  I'll be curious to see how he chooses to tell this story.  All of that content will be on his public YouTube channel; I'll put a link to that channel in a future post rather than buried here at the end of this one. 

Congratulations.  You made it to the end of the longest post ever.  Go have some chocolate milk to celebrate- that's my celebration drink of choice because it's delicious, and... I'm a child?   

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Less Than Two Weeks Now

Hey-ho, I have some positive news, good news, even, about this house we're trying to buy.  What a delightful change of pace, right?

Where we last left off (possibly where we last left off, anyway; I can't be bothered to go back and look right now, showing me new lows within the depths that encompass my laziness), the inspector had come and gone, emailed us a 73 page document that we were instructed to read in full (and which, by golly, I did) after which we knew that the cast iron plumbing was rotting and the chimney needed help in a multitude of ways and the knob and tube wiring in the attic was live... which is maybe illegal?  I don't remember. 

As you may recall, we are attempting to buy this house from a cold, soulless bank who does not care if a property of theirs burns down around us as slowly asphyxiate in our beds.  Because of this we assumed that we would be stuck fixing absolutely everything, large and small, that needs fixing in this house.  But lo and behold, miracles do occur, and they fixed the wiring and put a new liner in the chimney (or something chimney related- I'm finding through this process that I know zilch about chimneys).  They did this for reasons that I believe I will be able to divulge after our closing date but not before.  How will you ever sleep at night between now and June 10?

This gif could also be used to illustrate around 40% of my mental state when contemplating this move.  Things are very jittery up in here.

We're down to T-13 days until we leave Iowa.  We're sad, but also ready to stop feeling like we're half in one place, half in another, not really belonging in either.  Caedmon and Adelaide have both had to tour schools they will never attend (upper elementary for C, high school for A because the 8th graders will be there next year as the district does construction on the middle school).  All their friends are talking about the various fun summer plans they're making together which is normal, and natural, but not so enjoyable to listen to when you will be around for none of them.  I'm working on registering the kids for school in a different state, which is time-consuming but necessary.  Thankfully much of this is now online, so I can at least get the first few steps done remotely. 

People keep asking me how the packing is going, but I haven't been packing.  Like, at all.  The movers are packing our things on June 5th and loading them onto a truck on the 6th, so I don't think I need to pack anything else at this point- we packed a ton of crap away just getting the house ready to sell- but I'm getting increasingly jittery (see above gif), thinking that there must be something I'm forgetting I need to do.  At random times of day I'll suddenly dive for pen and paper or for my phone to use the Notes app, remembering that I need to get the oil changed on the van before we drive out to CT, and I need to put the giant saw in the shed on the swap page, I need to call and put an end date on our garbage service and water and who knows what all else. 

Oh, I know- I'll just ignore all of it and continue this (so far fantastic) book!  Maybe everything else will go away on its own?

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Inspectors Inspecting, Banks Bullying

Yesterday morning, Derek accompanied the inspector on his tour of our potential house in CT.  Then he called me, said he had good news and bad news, and told me a bunch of bad stuff.

To be fair, I was at work and he was in the middle of a bunch of errands so we didn't have time for a lengthy chat.  I was still left reeling from news of a chimney that needs help and rotting cast iron pipes and live knob and tube wiring in the attic that we eventually want to reclaim and use as a third floor.  That's not to mention the carpenter ants that were thankfully remediated a year ago.

I think it's funny that in the world of pest control they use terms like "remediated" for carpenter ants and "excluded" for bats.  Even someone who loves finding the perfect word for each situation wouldn't mind more plain language here:  how about "we killed the snot out of those ants" and "the bats now know they are not welcome in this place." 

When we spoke again later in the day, Derek shared the positive parts of the inspection, because it turns out there are positive parts!  The floors are in great shape, it's a great lot, and something else good that I can't think of because I keep dwelling on all the work we might have in front of us.  

The good part about taking care of all these problems ourselves is that we'll get to live with nice, new pieces of the house as soon as we move in.  If you've ever sold a house before then you know what I'm talking about:  when you put your house on the market you're forced to finish all those little projects you've been putting off or have been allowing to hang there, unfinished and dangling in your peripheral vision.  This means you look around at all your finally-completed rooms and say, "Man, this place is nice!" and then you move.  So if we replace the five windows whose seals are broken, replace the pipes, tear out the shrubbery that's way too close to the foundation, etc, etc, then we'll get to enjoy knowing those things are new and sturdy and we're building something that will last.  

There will still be surprises, of course.  In this house it was bats, burst pipes, clogged pipes, a cranky old air conditioner, a cranky old hot water heater, downed trees, and many, many other things.  But we improved it and we made it ours, and now we get to do the same to a comparatively newer house in Connecticut.  Our Iowa house was built in 1900, while the one we're working on buying is from 1920.  I don't feel safe stating outright that we're definitely buying it, because it's currently owned by a bank because it was a flip/foreclosure.  Let me tell you:  buying a house from a bank vs human beings is very different, and by "different" I mean "completely horrible," and by "completely horrible" I mean "googles Elizabethan torture methods for the heads of impersonal national banks but deems branding and pressing too compassionate."  

So there's that.

On the Iowa house front, it's officially Sold and not just Pending.  I know this because I walked outside the other morning and the topper on the realtor's sign in front of our house had been switched from "Pending" to "Sold."  I do well with this kind of obvious messaging, and frequently ask God to make His directions as unequivocal as this one.  I mean, I don't ask for a realtor's sign staked in front of our place of residence, but I do frequently say, "Please don't be subtle about this, God; you know I don't do well with that."  He never seems to listen, though.  OR... maybe I'm the bad listener?  

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Big Brutus

Sunday afternoon of our Kansas weekend was spent in the town of West Mineral, a place I can almost promise you have never been, being home to all of 185 people. 

Unless, of course, you have been to visit Big Brutus. 

Big Brutus is the (truly fantastic) name of the largest electric shovel still in existence.  It's no longer used for its original purpose, but there's a strip pit just beyond it so that when you sit in its... cabin?  Cockpit?  Whatever the name of the place where the driver sits, the strip pit is dead ahead of the windshield, so you can pretend you're about to strip mine the guts out of southeast Kansas, which is exactly what Big Brutus did in the 1960's and 70's.  After it was decommissioned it apparently just sat there, a big rusty hunk of metal in the middle of nowhere, just begging kids like my dad to come and see whether or not today was the day to contract tetanus. 

He didn't, thankfully, and by the time he and my mom took my sisters and I to visit it had been cleaned up and made relatively safe.  As a child, the only things I really remember about it was its massive size (hard to miss) and that our parents bought us slim plastic tubes filled with honey from the gift shop.  I also recall that we were allowed to climb up onto the boom, which I chose not to do because I was an intelligent child and risk-averse when it suited me to be. 

Nowadays those pesky insurance companies have stepped in and forbidden the public entrance to the boom. What's a boom on an electric shovel?  I'm still not sure- some kind of big metal thing that sticks even further up into the sky than the main part of the shovel. 

My dad, his wife, and their grandson met my sisters and their families plus my clan at Big Brutus.

It's hard to explain how big this thing really is in person, but to help you, here's a picture of it with our two boys circled in blue at its base.  It's sixteen stories high, not counting the boom.

One of my more interesting idiosyncrasies is that I frequently forget that heights are not my favorite.  Derek will suggest going ziplining in Branson and I'm all, "Great idea!"  The next thing I know we're on a platform attached to a tree way up high, strapped into a harness by some college kid who seems half-asleep and not at all concerned for my personal safety.  Thankfully I'm usually able to ignore that feeling of nausea in my belly that comes with being too far off the ground and do whatever is necessary:  step off the platform into nothing, walk out onto a rope at a ropes course, or in this case, climbing the open-air metal stairs that encircle Big Brutus and take you up, up, five stories up.  That did not save my brother-in-law Clinton from having to hear me chatter nervously behind him.  About what, I honestly don't remember, I just needed to make sounds until I was back inside the machine and couldn't see how far up we were.  

That body of water out the window up there is the strip pit, one of many that you'll find all over southeast Kansas.  My mom used to scare us with stories of machinery left in those from coal mining days, how you should never swim in them because they're so dangerous.  Also... something about the mob from Kansas City dumping bodies in them because they're a straight shot south from KC?  Sisters, is my brain making this up?

Both the boys wanted their picture in the drivers seat.  Adelaide abstained, for some reason.

That's Caedmon in the scoop and my dad kicking the tires, as it were. 

Requisite family photo in front of BB, which seems like a terrible nickname for Big Brutus, which is itself a nickname for the Bucyrus-Erie model 1850-B electric shovel- I'm just tired of typing Big Brutus.  We're missing two people in this photo, one because he sadly wasn't there and one because pictures aren't his favorite and I'd already shoved him in front of a camera many times that weekend.

My sisters and I haven't gotten a picture with our dad in quite some time, so we seized our chance in front of one of the many pieces of machinery on the grounds.  I knew what none of them were. 

And these are just two cute nieces.

And before you think this is all just some hick tourist attraction (which it totally is), NPR did a story on Big Brutus last year when it was turned into a museum and historic landmark.  When asked post-trip, Caedmon reported it as being "cool," Atticus liked skipping rocks on the water in the strip pit and spotting a turtle in the same, and Adelaide said that it was "a big metal thing that was slightly interesting, I guess."  She also liked hanging out with the babies, and crawling around inside BB.

 I guess that's one of the charms of kids; they usually get something out of your planned experiences, just never quite what you'd expected.